Eginhard’s Life of the Emperor Karl the Great

Date: 1877

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Chapter XXV Charlemagne



Charlemagne’s Conquests and Alliances


Great and powerful as was the realm of the Franks, which Charlemagne had received from his father Pepin, he nevertheless so splendidly enlarged it by his conquests that he almost doubled it. For previously the eastern Franks had only inhabited that part of Gaul which lies between the Rhine and the Loire, the Atlantic Ocean and the western Mediterranean, and that part of Germany situated between Saxony and the Danube, the Rhine, and the Saale. The Alamanni and Bavarians also belonged to the Frankish confederation. But Charlemagne conquered and made tributary, first, Aquitania and Gascony and the whole range of the Pyrenees, as far as the river Ebro . . . then the whole of Italy, from Aosta to Lower Calabria, where are the boundaries of the Greeks and Beneventans, an extent of more than a thousand miles in length; then Saxony, which is indeed no small part of Germany and is thought to be twice as wide as the part where the Franks dwell and equal to it in length; then both provinces of Pannonia and Dacia, on one side of the river Danube; also Istria, Liburnia, and Dalmatia, with the exception of the maritime towns, which for friendship’s sake, and on account of a treaty, he allowed the eastern emperor to hold; lastly, all the wild and barbarous nations which inhabit Germany between the Rhine and the Vistula, the ocean and the Danube, who speak a very similar language but are widely different in manners and dress. . . .

The renown of his kingdom was also much increased by the friendly alliances he cultivated with different kings and nations. Alphonso II, the Christian king of northwestern Spain, was so bound to him by the ties of friendship that, when he sent him letters or messengers, he used to command that he should be spoken of as Charlemagne’s man. The kings of the Scots, too, by his munificence, were so devoted to his will that they ever spoke of him as their lord, and of themselves as his submissive servants. Letters are still extant from them to him, showing what sort of relationship existed between them.

Harun,1 king of the Persians, who, with the exception of India, ruled over nearly all the East, was held by Charlemagne in such hearty friendship that he valued the Frankish ruler’s esteem above that of all other kings and princes of the world. . . . When the officers sent by Charlemagne with offerings to the most sacred sepulcher and place of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior came to Harun and announced the desires of their master, he not only gave them permission to do as they wished, but ordered that revered and sacred spot to be considered as belonging to Charlemagne. When the ambassadors set out on their return, Harun sent with them his own envoys, who conveyed to the king strange and curious gifts, with garments and spices and other rich products of the East, just as he had given to him, a few years before, the only elephant he then possessed.

The eastern emperors, Nicephorus I, Michael I, and Leo V, of their own accord, also sought his friendship and alliance and sent to him several embassies. Since, by assuming the imperial title, he had laid himself open to the grave suspicion of wishing to deprive them of empire, he made with them the most binding treaty possible, that there might be no occasion of offense between them. But the Romans and Greeks always viewed with distrust the power of the Franks; hence arose the Greek proverb, "Have a Frank for a friend but not for a neighbor."

1 , translated by William Glaister. London, 1877. George Bell and Sons.

2 Einhard, Vita Caroli Magni, 15–16.

1 Harun-al-Rashid (Aaron the Just) was the third caliph of the Abbasid dynasty. His capital was Bagdad.

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Chicago: William Glaister, trans., Eginhard’s Life of the Emperor Karl the Great in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 278–279. Original Sources, accessed February 21, 2024,

MLA: . Eginhard’s Life of the Emperor Karl the Great, translted by William Glaister, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 278–279. Original Sources. 21 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: (trans.), Eginhard’s Life of the Emperor Karl the Great. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.278–279. Original Sources, retrieved 21 February 2024, from